Jaxton Holly, who had not missed a kick of any kind all season, drilled a 34-yard field goal with seven seconds left on the clock and the Cyclones knocked off the two-time defending Class 4A state champions. The 24-21 decision over Greeneville’s Greene Devils came Friday night at a jam-packed Citizens Bank Stadium in a battle of teams ranked No. 1 and No. 2 in the state.
“I knew it would come down to it because I could just kind of feel it,” said Holly, who is 40 of 40 on extra points and 3 of 3 on field goals for the season. “I didn’t think twice about making it or missing it. I kind of knew I would make it. I’ve kicked that same kick about 100 times. I just thought of it as if it was an extra point.”
Second-ranked Elizabethton took a giant step toward the Region 1-4A championship, improving to 4-0 in league play and 8-0 overall. Top-ranked Greeneville, which will likely cede that spot to the Cyclones on Monday, fell to 3-1 and 6-2. It was the Devils’ first regular season loss to a Class 4A team since losing to Sullivan South in 2008.
It was Elizabethton’s first win over Greeneville since 2009.
Elizabethton set up the thrilling finish with a heart-thumping final drive. The Cyclones faced a third and five at their own 46, but Cade Maupin took his only snap of the game at quarterback and rushed for a first down with a 6-yard gain.
Maupin then had runs of four, seven and seven yards before catching a swing pass from Bryson Rollins for a 16-yard gain with 19 seconds left. Rollins took a three-yard loss on the next play, centering the ball for the field goal attempt.
Holly measured his steps, connected sharply, and slipped the ball just inside the left post.
“I thought I might have pulled it, but then it straightened out,” said Holly. “I knew I had kicked it good, though.”
Witten said the team understands the depth of Holly’s role on this team.
“We told Jaxton early in the year, if you think you’re not important to this team, you’re wrong,” said Witten. “You just gotta be ready and tonight he was ready. He’s a great kicker. He’s worked really hard and we’ve pushed him. We got a great snap and a great hold and a great kick.”
Holly’s brother, Braden, was the holder and he sealed the victory with an interception on the game’s final play.
Leading 14-7, Greeneville took the second-half kickoff and drove to the Cyclones’ 8-yard line. The Greene Devils moved it to the 3-yard line, and then the 2, and then the 1. It was fourth down, and the Cyclones stuffed the quarterback sneak to take over on downs.
“The defense had big stops all night long,” said Witten. “We really only gave up one big play. The goal-line stand was huge.”
Unfortunately, the Cyclones couldn’t move the ball and had a bad snap on the punt. Greeneville broke through and blocked the kick. Taking over at the Cyclones’ 13-yard line, Drew Gregg raced 13 yards into the end zone to give the Greene Devils a 21-7 lead late in the third quarter.
Facing third and 10 at its own 41 and the prospect of giving Greeneville the ball with a 14-point lead, the Cyclones struck gold.
Rollins was near the line of scrimmage when he lofted a sweet pass to Zach Hartley, who caught it in stride and raced into the end zone for the 59-yard touchdown.
Greeneville punted, Elizbethton punted, and Greeneville punted the ball to Elizabethton’s 5-yard line. That set up a clutch 95-yard drive.
A 50-yard run by Maupin changed the field, and six plays later the Cyclones had first-and-goal at Greeneville’s 1-yard line. After a false start and a five-yard gain, Rollins was stopped on second down. On third down, he appeared to reach the ball over the goal line, but the referees didn’t signal a touchdown.
On fourth down, Rollins went into a pile of bodies. After a long delay, one official raised his arms for the score. Holly’s kick tied the game with about five minutes left.
Elizabethton then stopped Greeneville on downs, setting up the game-winning drive.
THE FIRST STRIKE
The Cyclones got on the board first, utilizing the ball skills of receiver Parker Hughes. He high-pointed the ball at the goal line, and the result was a 38-yard touchdown toss from Bryson Rollins midway through the first quarter.
Greeneville got an answer in the second quarter when Mason Gudger found a crease and darted into the end zone for a 21-yard score.
The Greene Devils got a pair of breaks prior to their second score. First, Elizabethton had a snap sail over the quarterback’s head on third down and one yard to go. The resulting fourth-and-23 situation forced a Cyclones’ punt from their own 17-yard line.
Then the punt snap was high and the punt wound up only 13 yards past the line of scrimmage. One play later, Gudger went right up the gut for a 30-yard score and a 14-7 lead.
Greeneville had a chance to expand its lead before halftime. On first down from the Cyclones’ 20 with eight seconds left, Greeneville opted to run a play instead of a field goal attempt. Quarterback Drew Gregg was charged with intentional grounding, putting the ball on the 37. The ensuing 54-yard field goal was well short.
Maupin carried 24 times for 152 yards. Rollins had 15 carries for 63 yards, and was 9 of 16 passing for 164 yards. Hartley had two catches for 92 yards.
For Greeneville, Gudger had 17 carries for 127 yards. Gregg added 13 for 58 while Ty Youngblood added 14 for 40. Passing, Gregg was 6 of 13 for 30 yards.
Elizabethton outgained Greeneville 357-250.